Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sitting on your butt for justice

This is from the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (Columbus) newsletter, and the numbers George cites are specific to our church, but the call to get involved in B.R.E.A.D is relevant to all people of faith in central Ohio...

A few Sundays ago we read the story of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. ( II Kings 5:1-14) Naaman is afflicted with leprosy and is told to go to Israel to the man of God, Elisha, and he will be healed. When he finally arrives at Elisha's door, Elisha tells him to wash 7 times in the Jordan River. Naaman is offended. As leper he had probably tried to heal his skin disease by bathing many times. And, why in the Jordan River? Why not one of the rivers in Damascus where he lives? Naaman goes off in rage.

One of his servants confronts him and says, If the prophet had asked you do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more then, if he asks such a small thing like this. So Naaman goes down to the Jordan, washes 7 times and the leprosy is cured.

I am writing this by way of confrontation. Let me play the servant and you play Naaman. Once a year, B.R.E.A.D. asks the members of St. Stephen's to come to an Action Assembly where some issue of justice will be presented and some person in authority will be asked to address it.

Such issues in the past have included transportation, affordable housing, education, and access to health care. It all begins with listening to the people in the 48 congregations that make up B.R.E.A.D. Then there is research, contact with experts and best practices, hearing from those most affected by the problem (usually the poor), and then carefully wording the issue so that those in power (usually elected officials) can bring their office to bear on it and bring about justice. The most important part of this is the Action Assembly where hundreds and hundreds of people are gathered. It is the very numbers of people that convince the elected officials that the issue needs to be addressed.

Numbers. In B.R.E.A.D. numbers are power. Two hundred people showing up for an Action Assembly on healthcare would never have gotten the County Commissioners to commit serious money to expanding the Neighborhood Health Care Centers. It is the presence of people from the 48 congregations that brings the victory.

St. Stephen’s does not seem to be able to turn out many people for these Action Assemblies. 30 or less is often our number. 40-50 are numbers we have achieved a few times. At best we bring 1/3 of our congregation. Usually it is more like 1/5. Maybe that means we really don’t care about justice in Columbus? I don’t think so. Maybe, what is closer to home, is that we are afflicted with Naaman’s disease.

I don’t mean leprosy. I mean thinking that such a small thing as committing our presence for 1 evening for 2 hours will really change the situation for poor people in Columbus. It doesn't seem like enough. Putting ourselves in a seat, occasionally chanting B.R.E.A.D. Rises!, and applauding when we get cooperation and staying silent when the officials are uncooperative - this may be just too little to ask of such a multi-talented and intellectually gifted group like us. I know sometimes I wonder with all that I have on my plate, why am I here ... just to sit?

Yet if sitting in a seat for 2 hours, once a year, can bring justice to those who are crying for it (and the track record of B.R.E.A.D. is pretty good at accomplishing this), then I will sit in that seat. My butt can take it! I have sat longer and suffered more for lesser results. So I will be there, will you? We need 100 people from St. Stephen’s to show up. The goal for turnout for the Action Assembly is 2000 from the 48 congregations. This would be the largest gathering ever for B.R.E.A.D.

This Issue is Education and Youth
The Date is Monday evening, May 8th
The Time is 6:30 p.m.
The Place is Congregation Tifereth Israel,
1354 East Broad Street

Yours in Christ,

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